BJP In Mind, Habba Kadal Surpasses Previous Voting Records

15 December 2014
Greater Kashmir
Muddasir Ali

Srinagar: On early Sunday morning, supporters of rival political parties, National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, clashed in the lawns of a school at Kral Khud here, accusing each other of indulging in 'bogus' voting. As the situation worsened, Police used force to re-establish the order. The school housed six of the 60 polling booths in Habba Kadal, the constituency which is 100 percent urban in nature with a history of boycott. Today, however, as the constituency went to polls, the electoral politics was the catchword among people at the Kral Khud booths as participation of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), which had banked on migrant electorate to win the constituency, weighed heavily on the minds of many voters. 'There is no room for an outsider here. I and my seven other family members voted for National Conference,' said an elderly Muhammad Sidiq, outside the polling booth as men and women waited eagerly for their turn to exercise their franchise. Of 493 voters, 112 had cast their ballot by 10:30 am, an election official said. In Habba Kadal, National Conference's sitting MLA, Shameema Firdous and BJP's Moti Koul, a native, were in direct contest, though Sanjay Saraf of Lok Janshakti Party and Peoples Democratic Party's Zaffar Meraj were also in fray, among other candidates. Since 1962, the National Conference has won the seat six times. With a voter population of around 54852, the constituency has the highest Pandit migrant electorate strength of 16710, in entire Kashmir. The BJP, which had started mass campaign across India to mobilize migrant voters, was hoping that their participation in the elections would help it open its account in State legislature from Kashmir which has traditionally rejected the party. Data collected by Greater Kashmir revealed that of total 54852 voters in the constituency, only 11524 cast their ballot which included 2817 migrant voters-the vote chunk which apart from Kaul, was also eyed by Congress' Raman Matoo and Sanjay Saraf. In contrast, the total voters who cast their ballot at the polling booths in Habbad Kadal here was 8707. 'I have followed my parents and grandparents and voted for our own party,' said Sara Begum after casting her ballot at the polling station in Basant Bagh. As the clock ticked past afternoon, Habba Kadal had surpassed the voting records of previous two elections. In 2002, only 3.2 voters had participated in the electoral process and in next election, in 2008, the overall voting percentage was 11.28. Today, by 2 pm, the voting percentage had crossed 12 and by the time the process closed, the overall voting percentage registered was 16. In comparison to Kral Khud, which witnessed moderate voting, there was a mixed response to the polls in interiors of the constituency, with most people preferring to stay away from the election process. A young man argued with a group of youth over his participation in the elections, outside a polling booth in Kani Kadal. 'This is for the first time I have participated in any election. But today it is not about Aazadi (freedom) but about defeating the forces desperate to enter Kashmir and rule us,' 30-year old Mushtaq Ahmad tried to convince the group of young men. However, he couldn't convince his colleagues. 'What did we fight for and boycott the elections for the past 20 years? You are trying to say that this fight has reached a point where we have to choose between two faces of (mainstream) politics. In this discourse you forget the people who sacrificed their lives for the movement,' a burly young man responded to Ahmad and left the spot in anger. Others followed him as a contingent of paramilitary CRPF, wearing riot-gear, appeared from a nearby lane. Inside the polling booth, authorities said, 87 of the 850 voters had exercised their franchise. In Karfali Mohalla, the voter turnout was on the lower side. 50-year old Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din said the 'intense' battle between rival parties had drawn him to polling station. 'I voted for PDP,' he said. 'We have tried every other party in the past but nobody cared for us. I have high hopes with this party.' However, at Zaina Kadal, Umer Bashir, a young graduate, said he was hopeful that Sanjay Saraf of LJP, who is contesting the elections for the 3rd time, would work for the betterment of people, if voted to power. 'I made a conscious choice to vote for him (Saraf),' said Bashir. But in places like Chinkral Mohalla, Narparistan and Drabiyar, most of the voters argued that BJP's 'Mission 44' played a key role to 'force' people to vote. Fayaz Ahmad, a mason, said he voted for the first time. 'My vote is for keeping BJP out of the power,' he said.